Navigating the Liminal: The Secret of Standing Naked between Two Thresholds

For many years, I've had a passionate love affair with the word "liminal."  The word itself derives from the Latin "limen" -- that bottom part of a doorway (otherwise known as a "threshold") that we cross to enter a new place.

If you look further into its historical usage, you'll see that the word "liminal" was first written in a publication by European Anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep in 1909 to describe the second stage of a rite of passage like marriage, graduation or retirement.  For Van Gennep, the liminal stage of a transition occurs for the initiate (the person going through the ritual) after the "separation" period, when an individual has been stripped of a role or social status marker.  So, the liminal stage begins on the back end of a major loss that marks you with the raw experience of ego-nakedness.  Ego-nakedness is the experience that happens after the social markers that give you a sense of mobility and power in the world fall away and you're left with the stark vulnerability of standing naked between two thresholds with little to hold onto to give you a sense of efficacy.  So then, the central challenge of navigating the liminal stage of growth is this: To allow the radical mystery of this uneasy space to carve a bold, new vitality in you.

Naturally then, the liminal stage is the most anxiety producing phase of any transition because we resist being seen without our most prized ego accoutrements (that is, our social clothing). Such nakedness often evokes the difficult emotions of fear, grief, embarrassment and disappointment.  As a result, the tendency here to "act out" is significant because this stage, by nature, demands you to increase your tolerance of not only standing naked, but standing naked in an exposed place where you, in your vulnerability, become a focal point.  In liminal space, the anchored ego-security of identifying with one side of a threshold over another must be relinquished and give way to a very counter-intuitive stance -- that is "standing naked between two thresholds." Herein lies the most poignant creative tension of liminal space where the soul is summoned to embrace the perceived poverty of being exposed (with nothing to hold onto), trusting that such exposure actually reveals an interior wealth worth waiting for!

So, one important inquiry becomes, "What kind of engagement does standing in the creative tension of liminal states require of you?" Let me describe one way to engage here by sharing the narrative of a recent client still navigating this tricky territory.

Dave began his inner work nearing the "separation" stage of career transition as a middle-aged corporate professional that has had varying degrees of success in the digital media sector with some experiences leaving him very satisfied and others leaving him wanting.  In his latest job in the same field, Dave found himself welcomed into a heart-breaking split where the gap between his soul and role (and the accompanying tasks that came with it) for this company were at odds.  The pain rising up through this gap grew into such a significant depression that he had no choice but to take the "liminal leap" and respond to this internal imperative by breaking ties with the company -- a courageous act indeed when considering that he has a family to support and given that this job definitely provided a sense of ego support.

Dave's departure announcement to this company marked his entrance into liminal space. Stripping himself of his previous role, he initiated himself into soul-searching liminal territory where his primary quest becomes one of seeking deep alignment between who he is and what he does in the working world.  Not surprisingly, his entrance into this territory was signaled by an onslaught of various illnesses, injuries and profound exhaustion. Liminality has a way of accentuating the "stripping" process because it knows that in our greatest vulnerability we actually begin to see ourselves more clearly!

So, how does Dave and others that relate to his story navigate this liminal space skillfully? As I've shared with Dave, the next step begins with anchoring your inner ship.  With Dave, this has been a process of identifying what resources he already has in his life that help him to be centered.  For Dave, the fitness realm has offered him a deep and satisfying relief from stress for many years, so this became an obvious starting point.  However, the key here is to help Dave to do his movement practice from a different vantagepoint.  This means utilizing a "mindfulness approach" to his movement practice where he can pay specific attention to inner cues (emotions, body sensations and thoughts) that reveal a sinking inner ship.  During his movement practice, Dave can name the unrest that is occurring in the moment and right his inner ship before things go too awry.  Here, Dave's movement practice becomes the stage for working with the various challenges that arise in the liminal stage.  Further, in this liminal stage, Dave must resist the impulse to be defined by old or more comfortable narratives that provide momentary self-soothing.  Dave also must also refuse to engage old strategies for self-medicating that keeps him from really feeling the unrest of this state.  The key here is to learn how to stay with the harrowing anxiety of being exposed in a manner that allows the creative tension of liminal space to possess you.  Your most important work is to let liminality do its thing, without reacting or trying to get control.  Herein lies the secret of navigating the creative tension of liminal space - that in fact, there is nothing for you to do, make, or produce here.  Rather, standing naked between two thresholds is a "being only" space that calls you to hold a silent vigil for your soul, amidst the threatening torrent of the liminal storm.

So, the anchor you must establish in this place (meditation also works really well, by the way) has one purpose -- that is to keep you grounded, vigilant, and coming back to a place of purposeful inaction time and time again.  Keep in mind that the time to act will come, but liminality necessitates a sitting still that is not like any other transitional state. Once the anchor is firmly rooted, then begins engagement with the heart of liminal space -- that is, the creative tension that summons us to step forward with boldness.  The creative tension of liminality will often lead us to grapple with the polarities that lie within us in a manner that we first observe their oppositional dynamics, then sink into their conflictual emotional interplay and finally resolve the inner tension with creativity and commitment.  We actually need to fully feel the breakdown and chaos that lies in the tension because therein lies the most potent teaching of liminal space --- that leaning into the chaotic storm of liminality forces us to relinquish our most preciously held defenses leaving the raw brutality of its creative force to carve a new response to life in us!

May you and Dave drop into the creative tension of liminal space with courage today so that tomorrow you may see the way open for you with poise, purpose and precision.

The Sweet Spot of Career Discernment - Where Aspiration meets Equanimity

I really enjoy working with clients that seek to engage deeply with the arduous process of career transition. In order to ensure that these transitions are not the activation of another "rinse-repeat" cycle (i.e. where you do the same things and end up in similar places), you must thoughtfully engage and gain access to the deep, reflective experience called career discernment.

Discernment comes from the Latin "Discernere" which literally means "to set apart, divide, distinguish, separate" as you would in a sifting process.  So, the essence of discernment is to sift through insights, intuitions, somatic experiences, and external events to determine the coherent narrative meaning of the key messages emerging from both the individual and collective soul.  It is important to remember that "discernment" is often a long process that contains many detours and unexpected curves and as such does not align well with the dominant culture's discernment paradigm which prefers the linear progression of immediate solutions that bring productivity and success.  This is where learning "The Sweet Spot of Career Discernment" becomes most important.

The Sweet Spot of Career Discernment is the point at which Aspiration meets Equanimity. Metaphorically, this spot is the fiery furnace that keeps burning for the whole winter season despite shortages in fuel and a biting, hard cold.   Expressed in terms of the body, the sweet spot of career discernment can be found in the Staff pose in Yoga (see photo to right). Staff pose beautifully expresses both the deep longing of aspiration in the reach of the arms toward the sky as well as the grounded and stabilizing posture of equanimity in the "staff-like" tautness of the hips, legs and spine.  I encourage you to try this pose to get a somatic sense of the truth of holding this tension.

To engage Career Discernment well (i.e. finding its sweet spot), we must hold it like an overnight vigil (see photo to the left)-- waiting, waiting, waiting for the clarifying messages to emerge while staying deeply rooted in that aspirational voice within that knows your deepest yearnings and passions. Equanimity is engaged both in the patience of the waiting but also in the "not getting attached" to the arrival of the messages within a particular timeframe.  It is not uncommon to attend a few career discernment "vigils" and to leave more confused than when you came.  This is part of the process, too  - doubt and uncertainty are necessary for precise clarity to make itself manifest. Equanimity makes space for the discernment pendulum to swing without getting emotionally involved in the swinging.    Equanimity trusts the process long-term and is not thrown about by obstacles, detours and seeming lack of clarity.

So, it is with strong encouragement that I invite all of you going through a career transition to visit the "Sweet Spot of Career Discernment."  From a practical perspective,  you will need to establish and practice the environmental conditions that create your perfect vigil making space.  Remember that vigils are a practice of "devotionally watching" for important information to be spoken from the soul. Holding vigil can begin with a nightly meditation practice and develop into morning journal reflections.  The form of the practice is not the issue here, it is a matter of setting up the program so that both Aspiration and Equanimity are fully engaged and can swing freely and mightily!  For more information on working in this beautiful tension, consider joining the Soulstice Project (a coaching group for Career Discernment) or meeting with Chris Peraro for individual
coaching and/or counseling.


When Enough is Enough: Dialing into the Potent Mastery of What's in front of You

As I share this with all of you, I'm in the urgent psychological state of knowing that sparked this posting.   I feel the potent resonance of this truth as I speak it to you and I share it with gratitude for its willingness to hold vigil with my soul until I apprehend its meaning.  

Here it is: The mind's construction of a fantasized life other than the one that is being delivered right in front of you is one of the greatest distractions to your fullest engagement with reality.  And when you are disengaged with reality, you are unhappy and when you are unhappy your tendency to act out is greater and when you act out suffering visits its bitterness upon your life.  

So, in the midst of this incisive knowing, I want to share a paradox rising within me -- because truth loves making its nest in paradox. My life is not where I want it to be - Career, Fatherhood, Family, Play, Spiritual enlightenment, etc -- all those areas and more fall short of where I want to be.  I fantasize about a different life. Thud!

 ...Now, some of this dynamic relates to the fact that I'm more aware than ever that I'm aging and the urgency that comes with this territory applies a pressure to my life that makes achievement of that image I'm after just not possible in the timeframe that is demanded.  …And then there are the things outside my control that cause irritating delays…  …And then there's the fact that I'm an idealist…  ...I don't want to get lost here in the obstacles because that is not the main point of this posting -- but it is helpful peripheral information that makes the central insight all the more delicious.

The point is this:  When I relax into the elegant embodiment of LIFE living itself THROUGH me and displaying its magic TO me as if it were a play where I'm both the main character as well as the audacious audience, I see with a kind of delicate transparency that THIS IS ENOUGH, and I'm slowly and disarmingly brought to my knees.  In fact, the question of "enoughness" disappears quite radically in this territory because the MOMENT at its phenomenological root IS fullness.  There is no where to go, but here and HERE is where the fantasized satisfaction of achieving my potential actually exists!!!!  We are always being and becoming…  So, relax with me friends into the muddled dissatisfaction of this moment…  For it will pass, and if we lean in long enough we are visited by something more real and eternal in its longevity.  Bring on the moment cuz it is enough!

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The vibrant life underneath Fear

When the veil of fear is lifted, you must watch closely.  You may not get another chance like it in a very long time.  …And, if you can hold your gaze for long enough, you can create a new reference point and thus chisel away at least one of its mighty strongholds.

This happened to me once and I've never been the same…  I was at work one day and noticed something different about my demeanor, my heart rate, and my pace.  This was not something that came about by willful force or intentional aspiration.  Rather, there was, a kind of mysterious visitation from an unknown relative within my psyche.  The emergence of this family member immediately slowed down the pusher -- that psychological part within me that likes me to respond to all of life with a sense of urgency.  There I was with a pile of work the size of Everest and for some strange reason I felt no longer compelled to attack it.  Instead, I quite naturally with the help of this new advocate took a one task at a time approach just seeing what I could realistically get done and accepting the fact that I would not complete it.  I was somewhat in shock with the suddenness of the switch.  What happened to the guy that hated feeling "behind" in his work?  What happened to forcing it beyond my means?

Truthfully, I am not sure what caused such a significant shift and I'm not sure that really matters at this point.   It is more important to describe the landscape that emerged as I gazed further into its infinite horizons.  The first falling star was fear of failure.  Simply put, there was no such thing as failure in this arena but rather the simple acknowledgement of my fundamental limitedness as a human being.  Previous to this moment, I was prone to fighting and pointing fingers.  Settling on a "systemic" origin of my troubles provided a temporary relief for me to feel good about myself and thus could consider myself a"success" in my own right.  However, this language and the experience itself becomes like sand between the fingertips when you're looking at life from this angle.  Instead, what matters most is the light but ever present pulse of being there-- not just witnessing what is happening in front of you as a member of the audience but rather staying embodied within the oscillation between the animation of soul through you as well as watching soul animate itself in life -- classic subject-object relations transforming into a kind of non-dual well of unification.

Staying with this pulse is an elusive project -- especially if your view, like mine has been dominated life-limiting forces.  The next fear that fell away was fear of rejection.  Instead of being motivated first by the internal pressure to be accommodating and pleasing to others in order to win approval, there I was just doing my thing with full acknowledgment that I simply cannot get to everyone's needs and that inevitably this means that others will not think favorably of me.   How liberating!

So, hold your gaze my friends!  When fear leaves the scene, we are greeted with the incredible opportunity to pierce reality from a more open and precise vantage point.  And in that precision,  we are faced with the summons to drop into life more authentically…  There is a preciousness there that is truly a treasure to behold!


My Elegant Muse - She had me at "hi"

The clock struck midnight and my house was pierced with a monastic solitude.  I remember feeling a prickly anxiety -- the kind that begs for distraction because it is seemingly so hard to bear. ...I was on my iPhone texting with my brother-in-law, Rob McNamara…  I was expressing to Rob my positive feelings about a shift occurring in my life related to decreasing hours at my full-time job.

With excitement and encouragement, Rob supported my decision and then proclaimed these haunting words from his published book entitled, "The Elegant Self":  "Once the presence of elegance is discovering you an unrelenting and un-wielding commitment must be born between you and your lover if you are to know the secret throne." In his own magically shape-shifting manner, Rob turned on a dime from the sacred to the profane and invited me to come over and hang for some late-night brotherhood connection (via the Xbox 360) to which I playfully responded, "Though I'm tempted, I have to say not tonight, honey."  The truth was that I was getting pretty darn tired and I was also feeling like I needed to soulfully attend to his quote.  His words shook me and I knew I needed to listen more deeply.

So, while we continued to text, I leaned in a bit more -- engaging with light dialogical touches the voice of "elegance" my bro was speaking about.  Of course, the part of me that likes a good chase wrote back to Rob saying, "So how long shall I let her pursue me?"  And, Rob, putting his iPhone Yoda voice on said, "To pretend that it is your choice is the folly."  At that precise moment, a still, quiet presence entered the room and in the span of no longer than three quarters of a second she delivered her sweet homily.  It was one word and her voice sounded so familiar I initially wrote it off as my wife dropping by on her way to a late-night bathroom visit.  However, when I turned around, there was not a soul there.  What?!?  Quickly, I shook off the convulsions of fear that swept through my body and made my way to our bedroom where I witnessed my wife and youngest son in a deep sleep.  Wait a second!  If my wife was asleep, then from whom did this voice emerge????

As I sat with this further (from a state of calm) and put this experience in the context of the unfolding text conversation with Rob -- the visitor's identity became painfully clear.  "Elegance" was making known her presence.  And while I wish I could deliver a profound and lengthy narrative on her visit to me, I have to be honest and tell you that all she said was, "Hi" and then like a thief in the night, she vanished!  …And that was enough.  She literally had me at "hi."  …And so the unrelenting commitment to her was born…

I share this story with you to elucidate a point.  "The Great Self" has many partners and many voices.  If we pay attention the voice of calling will pursue you.  But once you apprehend her, there is no turning back.  You must make your way forward to the "secret throne," trusting that this is your essence and your destiny.

The Simultaneity of the Great Self and Self-Doubt

If you've been someone that for large sections of your life has identified with self-doubt, then this blog is for you.  I'm not talking here about momentary wrestling matches with self-critical demons in the basement of your soul here. ...Rather, I'm talking about a thin, yet impenetrable veneer that has cast itself over your life for decades.  
In its subtlety and trickery, it reveals itself to you as a transparent lens while in truth it distorts your perception of self and others to epic proportions.  Its message is one of disbelief and comes in many forms like, " those folks really don't care for you" OR "you might as well forget about it because you don't really matter."  Its purpose is to keep you distracted and far from any consistent realization of your human passion and potential.  If noone points it out to you and you aren't doing work on yourself you can fall prey to this behemoth in almost every life situation and the repetition of your interface with this part only reinforces the mythic intentions of this sneaky creature.  Many people die having never really acknowledged the phantom identity of this psychological part.  What a travesty!

However, let's say someone walks into your life and pierces the the delicate exoskeleton of this seemingly real being.  Through that opening, you begin to see other perspectival possibilities and your lifelong depression begins to drain out through that tubular opening slowly but surely.  

This is one of the many ways that the "Great Self"emerges. The Great Self is that precious birthright part of you that knows its own radical uniqueness and has razor sharp clarity about how you are to use your gifts as a generous contribution to the world.  

It is painful inner work to pierce through  the layers of self-doubt that mute the voice of the "Great Self" but if you are persistent and seek guidance when necessary, you will experience a paradigm shift where the "Great Self" comes forward and speaks in simultaneity with the part of you that doubts.  When this arises, you know you are nearing the gate of transformation and that a radically different way of engaging with the world is right around the corner.  I'm here to encourage you to hang in there, lean in and enjoy the ride. With consistent support, the "Great Self" will emerge and you will relax with self-doubt and experience a deep inner trust that was previously inaccessible.  Know of my support on this journey.  Much peace...
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